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Team bond key for young Lions

Bryce Heaton, NEAFL.com.au  September 1, 2017 9:18 AM

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Brisbane Lions swingman Liam Dawson has heaped praise on the coaching staff for instilling a strong team-oriented ethos, attributing their 2017 NEAFL resurgence to a strong culture that will soon translate into AFL success.

Dawson is confident the Lions can get the job done in the lead up to their Preliminary Final against Sydney University at the Gabba on Saturday, and says the academy boys are more than capable of helping Brisbane to their first NEAFL Grand Final since 2013.

“It’s always nice for those boys coming in and playing their role,” Dawson said.

“They know their job. I think previously they were sort of coming in and thinking, ‘I’ve gotta play well’… Now I think it’s more of a team oriented field in the NEAFL. I think that drive is from the coaches.

“Hahny (coach Mitch Hahn) has been big all year about our spirit. I feel as though the academy boys really enjoy coming through and playing with us now. Not to say they didn’t previously, but I think it’s more of an enjoyable environment this year and the spirit has been huge.”

The reinvigoration of a previously stagnant Lions AFL side has been widely attributed to the signings of David Noble and Chris Fagan, but Dawson says Mitch Hahn was also just what the doctor ordered for the NEAFL side as well.

“He’s been really good for us, he’s only given us one spray so far,” he quipped.

“I’m sure he gets frustrated in the box but he’s pretty cool, calm and collected when he comes down and speaks to us. It’s what you want for a young group, a coach that we can relate to and has AFL experience as well.”

Dawson likened the feel amongst the group to the 2014 Aspley side which he was a part of, a team that defied the odds to beat the Sydney Swans in the Grand Final.

“I think the most similar thing that we’ve got going is spirit, and everyone getting along, off-field as well. When I was at Aspley I felt so comfortable coming in and knowing that the boys are going to stick up for you on the footy field.

“They made me feel so welcome and I feel as though blokes in the (Lions) NEAFL are doing that for the academy boys, they’re doing it for the blokes coming in as first year draftees.”

It’s a culture he says has allowed the club to pull players through the worst of times in light of a recent heart-breaking third ACL tear for Sam Skinner.

“He’s very respected around the club and is an awesome bloke,” Dawson said.

“I’ve sent him a few texts (post-operation) and said ‘I’m here to chat’ and all the boys have anyway, so that’s probably the biggest thing… the spirit.

“We’re always going to support our team. We’re always going to stick by him. He’s a strong-minded bloke and he will come through.”

The Lions trained this morning ahead of their clash with a Students side searching for their first Preliminary Final victory in three straight attempts. Dawson says they’re wary of what will likely be a very desperate opponent.

“We beat these guys pretty convincingly (during the year), I know they’re going to come out pretty hard and are going to be pretty hungry as well,” he said.

Brisbane have their Club Champion ceremony Friday night at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, but Dawson says that won’t distract the NEAFL team from the task at hand.

“We’ll have our pasta, waters and Gatorade at the table, so yeah it’ll be a normal game for us. It’s going to be enjoyable but we’ve got to take it fairly easy.”

As for who will take out the Merrett-Murray Medal, the Redcliffe junior had a few tips, with Brisbane’s great Dayne Zorko at the forefront.

“Zork (Dayne Zorko) is All-Australian now so he’s up there as one of the top two contenders, I think Dayne Beams has had a very good season as well as captain,” Dawson said.

“All the normal contributors, Rocky (Tom Rockliff) will be up there, I think Squizzy (Lewis Taylor) has had a good season, Froggy (Ryan) Lester, Harris Andrews, all our up-and-coming stars I guess. Sam Mayes has come out of the blocks this year as well, it’s going to be interesting.”

Dawson also reflected on a solid 2017 season for himself, but lamented missed opportunities.

“I’ve been pretty consistent in the NEAFL but I probably didn’t take my chances in the AFL and would’ve liked to have a few more games at the top level, but I can’t dwell on it now,” he said.

He’s contracted for 2018 but the 21-year-old isn’t resting on his laurels, hoping to lock down a position and a concrete spot in the AFL side.

“I think off-season focus will be just to get really fit, just so I can go through that midfield/forward role next year.

“But I’ve got to see Fages (Chris Fagan) and see where I sit and then go from there.” 

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